Democrats frustrated with latest Manchin pitch on Build Back Better

Senate Democrats are feeling exasperated with Sen. Joe Manchin’s (D-W.Va.) latest proposal on a scaled-down version of President Biden’s Build Back Better agenda that would leave out big social spending initiatives like expanded child care, universal pre-kindergarten, national paid family leave and long-term home health care.   

Manchin is proposing that his colleagues choose one 10-year program to focus on and devote the other half of revenues raised from tax reform and prescription drug reform to deficit reduction and fighting inflation.

He is suggesting limiting new spending to climate programs instead of an array of social spending initiatives that he says would likely get baked into the federal budget baseline for years to come.

Manchin says the country has to “get its fiscal house in order” before embarking on new grand spending plans, but his colleagues aren’t ready to let go of big, ambitious reforms they’ve talked about for more than a year, such as direct federal support for expanded access to child care.   

He argues that the nation can’t keep adding to the deficit when inflation is running at a 40-year high. But that stance is fueling tension with leading Democratic progressives and liberal advocacy groups. 

“If he wants to focus on an economic package, then he needs to remember child care is an economic issue,” said Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) when asked about Manchin’s pared-down proposal.  

“We have many, many, many parents at home today because they cannot get child care. We have people who can’t work in the child care industry because they don’t make a living wage,” she added. “If we want to have an economy that’s firing on all cylinders, we want people to be able to go back to work.”

“Let me point out, that affects inflation. When you don’t have enough workers, then prices go up,” she argued in response to Manchin’s concern about rising prices, which he has cited as a major reason not to pass Biden’s Build Back Better agenda.  

Senate Health Committee Chairwoman Patty Murray (D-Wash.), who is leading the effort to pass funding for expanded access to child care and universal pre-kindergarten, said her priorities “are all part of dealing with inflation.”   

“We all understand that and we’re all fighting for it,” she said.  

“What I feel very strongly is that Congress needs to address some of the costs that families are feeling today. Child care is a huge part of that and it is a barrier for people to be able to go back to work so they can support their families in this challenging time,” she said.  

Manchin, however, has raised doubt about the argument that spending hundreds of billions of dollars on new social programs will fight inflation by lowering costs.  

“I’ve never found out that you can lower costs by spending more,” he told reporters after Biden’s first State of the Union address Tuesday evening.

And he shrugged off Biden’s efforts Tuesday to revive the key elements of his Build Back Better agenda, such as spending hundreds of billions of dollars to reduce child care costs and establish universal pre-kindergarten. 

“It just keeps adding up and up,” he told reporters. “To me, it’s all about inflation.” 

“Inflation is the No. 1 enemy we have in America today,” he said.   

Some Democrats say they are growing tired of the back-and-forth with Manchin, which has dragged on for months, leaving them deeply frustrated over their inability to strike a deal.  

“It all comes down to Joe,” said one Democratic senator, who requested anonymity to discuss frustrations in the caucus over lack of progress on Build Back Better. “He wants to keep changing things. The great mystery has been why is it so damn hard to have senators sit down and work out the details?” 

The lawmaker said, “We’re all so tired of BBB.”  

“Politically, it’s just a killer, it sucks all the life out of us. We’re all so completely frustrated by it,” the senator added.

Senate Democrats and their allies are also disappointed by what looks to be the demise of a $150 billion proposal to provide long-term home health care through Medicaid for the elderly and disabled.   

“We feel like that would be incredibly disappointing and also very shortsighted on the part of Congress,” said Katie Smith Sloan, the president and CEO of LeadingAge, an association of nonprofit providers of aging services.  

“The population is aging and we have not invested in the services and support that all the people need for years,” she added. “We have a crisis for people getting access to care, whether that’s 24/7 care in a nursing home or a bit of help at home.”

“It’s extremely frustrating and really disappointing,” she said of the prospect of the program being dropped. “We were thrilled to see it as a high priority in Build Back Better.” 

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who has clashed most directly with Manchin and even says he’s open to supporting a primary challenger against his colleague, was in no mood to talk about Manchin’s latest idea for a dramatically scaled down budget reconciliation package.   

“I don’t care what he wants,” Sanders told reporters when asked about Manchin’s latest pitch.

“I’m talking about bringing forward the legislation the American people want. He doesn’t like it he can vote against it or vote for it. That’s his business,” Sanders said.   

Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) said he doesn’t want to get sucked into another round of speculation about what Manchin may or may not support.  

“I don’t follow the machinations of Joe Manchin as closely as you do,” he told reporters. “I’m not going to comment on Manchin and negotiations. We’ve done that for a year.”

“I just don’t want to start the rounds of stories again that we’re talking to Manchin, this is going here and they’re failing and this is left out and just more stories looking like that rather than what we’re getting done,” he said.  

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) on Thursday said she will try to convince Manchin that funding for expanded child care, pre-kindergarten and a national paid family leave program shouldn’t be left out of whatever budget reconciliation package Democrats might put together later this year. 

“I don’t think the deal is done so I’m going to work very hard to talk to my colleague about the importance of focusing on the economy and access to childcare is one of the biggest economic issues that most families face,” she said. 

“So I’m going to work with him on the economic reasons why affordable day care, universal pre-K and the national paid leave plan should be part of that discussion,” she added. “If full employment is the goal, then child care has got to be part of the solution.”   

Jordan Carney contributed.  

Tags Bernie Sanders Biden agenda Build Back Better Democrats Elizabeth Warren Joe Biden Joe Manchin Kirsten Gillibrand Patty Murray Senate Sherrod Brown

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